The Rockies continued their improved play by splitting a 4 game series with the Miami Marlins and then sweeping the Mets in New York. The 13 wins so far in August make this the best month for the Rockies and are a welcome respite from the disastrous months of June (9-18) and July (7-17). Injuries continue to mount with the bug starting to bite the young players too: Eric Young was placed on the DL and both Dexter Fowler and Josh Rutledge are listed as day to day with leg injuries. The starting rotation was bolstered by the return of Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched well enough to earn a W in his first start since May. This week, we discuss the current hot streak, where Tyler Colvin should be playing, and what Chacin’s return means for the four man rotation.
What 3 words describe the recent stretch of improved play?
Brendan: It is cute. The wins are much appreciated and it certainly makes watching the games much more enjoyable, but this is still a deeply flawed organization. Beating up on the Brewers and Mets (two teams with worse bullpens than the Rockies) is nice, but don’t let a two week oasis distract from the desert of losing the season has become. The organization still refuses to make any managerial changes of significance and the body of work suggests that this is the aberration, not the norm. I was never convinced that a 100+ loss season would inspire any changes in leadership, so I am happy to see the Rockies on pace for “only” 96 losses. I don’t mean to disparage what the Rockies have accomplished so far this month, I am simply trying to focus on how lucky they are getting. For instance, allowing a base runner every single inning (as the Rockies did on Thursday) will not yield many 1-0 wins, but I will take them any way I can get them.
Kevin: Worst to First!!! OK clearly not this year, and probably not next year. But, the important thing to take away from this stretch is that with just average pitching, rather than historically bad pitching, this team can be decent. Of course, it helps to play the Brewers, Marlins, and Mets, all of whom are below .500 teams. This recent stretch highlights the fact that although the Rockies seemingly have done nothing but lose this year, there are actually quite a few bright spots. This team as a very good, young, offensive nucleus with guys like CarGo, Tulo, Fowler, Rutledge, Colvin, Rosario, Pacheco, and the recent emergence of EY2.
Ned: It’s about time. In spring training, most of us thought the Rockies would struggle early in the season until the pitching came around. But the pitching improvements we anticipated were the return of DLR and Nicasio, and the emergence of Pomeranz and White. Unless one had prescience not shared by mere mortals, you never anticipated that former Cardinals’ starter Adam Ottavino would be picked-up off waivers on April 3 and quickly become a bullpen mainstay. We did not anticipate that Jeff Francis would re-sign with the club in June, and become a reliable starter. We did not anticipate that relievers Belisle, Roenicke and Brothers would have 187.2 combined innings pitched on August 24, and that Rex Brothers would lead the staff with 8 wins. And we were not familiar with the phrases four man rotation and paired pitching. We expected the Rockies to play better sometime in the summer, but we thought it would happen earlier. We never expected the improved play to come with these pitchers, with the Rockies’ unique pitching strategy, and without Tulo, Helton and Giambi.
Is Tyler Colvin better suited for the outfield or first base?
Brendan: Colvin’s speed and athleticism make him a natural fit for the outfield, but the lack of prospects at 1B makes that a long term option too. The problem the Rockies have is what can they do with Cuddyer? If we ignore the Cuddyer clog and instead focus on the relative strength and weaknesses of this team, I would say that Colvin should play 1B. 1B might be Rosario’s eventual home if he cannot improve his receiving skills, but other than Pacheco who else is there? Plus, the Rockies have a glut of fourth outfielders (EY, Blackmon, Wheeler) that could handle the OF duties. But that is all without factoring in Cuddyer, who will play virtually every day when active. No Cuddyer and no Helton means that Colvin easily slides into the everyday 1B role, but jettisoning both of those aging players is a pipe dream. I think that with the way the Rockies are currently constructed, Cuddyer should play 1B and Colvin should be in the OF where his athleticism can be maximized as an asset.
Kevin: Colvin fits well at both. Ultimately, whether he plays first or outfield depends on the development of Nolan Arenado. If Arenado shows that he is ready to be the starting third baseman next year, then Pacheco will shift to first, where he will split time with Helton (or Pacheco could become a super-utility player at first, catcher, third, and maybe even second). Then Colvin would shift to right field. All of this depends on the organization trading Michael Cuddyer because they finally realize the absurdly obvious fact that Michael Cuddyer does not fit on this roster. Either way, Colvin fits at both, which gives the Rockies good roster flexibility that hopefully they can use to their advantage.
Ned: Which is better: Reese’s peanut butter cups or Snickers bars? Same thing with Tyler Colvin–he is very good at both positions. Being left-handed and with his height (6’3”), butter-soft glove and quick reflexes, Colvin is best suited for first base. But remember that the Rockies have Cuddyer under contract for two more seasons. The question then becomes where does Cuddyer help most? Since Colvin is definitely a better right fielder than Cuddy, Colvin should be in right with Cuddy at first. This alignment would allow Helton to be used in a reserve role during his final season. The Stewart/Weathers trade for Colvin and LeMahieu continues to look like grand larceny on the Rockies part. Colvin should be a long-term Rockie at either first or right (and we saw him play well in center this week), and LeMahieu has good promise as an infield utility man.
What does Jhoulys Chacin’s return from the DL mean for the four man rotation?
Brendan: It means that the four man rotation is over (at least for now). Don’t get excited, though, because the much maligned 75 pitch limit is here to stay. The dirty little secret is that the four man rotation has functionally been over for a little while now – the arms just aren’t holding up. Pomeranz has been skipped a few times (similar to Friedrich before he was shut down) whenever he doesn’t get four days rest so it has been five different starters, just not a regular rotation. The most compelling argument in favor of the four man rotation is that it is an attempt to prevent the starting pitcher from going through the lineup a third time. If we assume 4 pitches per plate appearance (in 2011 it was ~3.8), it should take approximately 72 pitches to get through 18 plate appearances – two times through the lineup. It all comes back to preventing the third time through and the four man rotation and its 75 pitch count are both logical outcomes of implementing this strategy. With Chacin’s return, nothing about the final strategy has to change: the goal is still to prevent the starter from facing the lineup for the third time. The 75 pitch limit should be eliminated (since each starter will have full rest before making another start), but limiting the third time through the lineup part of the strategy should remain.
Kevin: Although the Rockies are going with five starters for the next week, they are keeping the 75 pitch limit. This indicates that the Rockies don’t know what is in store for the four-man rotation. It looks like they are keeping the five pitchers ready to return to the four-man, but they are waiting for the starters to distinguish themselves one way or another. I suspect the team will go back to the four-man soon and that Tyler Chatwood will be the odd man out. Chatwood has been throwing well lately, with the exception of his rough outing against Miami. Despite the current five-man rotation, this team looks like it’s going to resume the four-man and piggy-back experiment soon.
Ned: Nice problem to have. However, the fragility of Pomeranz, and the recent success of the four man rotation dictates that the four man rotation will continue for the balance of the season. Has everyone noticed that the “four” man rotation is often a “five” man rotation with spot starts from guys like Moscoso, Cabrera and Sanchez . In fact, the concept of a rotation seems to exist only in the sense that some guys have regular starting assignments, and some guys have regular paired assignments. Nevertheless, whatever name we choose to give this program, it has been successful in contrast to the pitching in first half of the season. Chacin’s first start since his return was excellent; however, remember that it is just one game. The Rockies won’t deviate from the program that has brought some success to the club based on one good start from Jhoulys. Even if Chacin strings multiple good starts together, do not look for the Rockies to abandon the recently successful paired-pitching program. Maybe, just maybe, the team has stumbled onto the solution to the eternal problem of pitching in Coors Field. And maybe the characterization of this pitching strategy will change from desperate to revolutionary. BTW, has anyone missed Bob Apodaca?
Have a different take? Let us know in the comments below.
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